Saturday, November 11, 2023

From The SMW* Files Of E@L

E@L has just discovered an excellent book review podcast called Backlisted, where they pull out an overlooked or under-appreciated book from some time back and get experts to go over the tome’s inexplicable and unfortunate desuetude.


The first one he listened to while he was doing his morning walk yesterday. The topic was M. R. James, the Eton don who wrote “weird” and ghostly tales in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically his Ghost Stories of An Antiquary from 1904.


The second episode he Iistened to while he was on the road back from No1 son’s place in Melbourne this afternoon. This episode was about Diane Johnson’s 1972 biography, The True History Of The First Mrs Meredith And Other Lesser Lives. George Meredith, the husband in question, being the early Victorian era novelist.


After the excellent discussions on the podcasts, E@L bought them both for his Kindle (0.99c for the James) and after dipping an eyeball into both he can heartily recommend them! Johnson’s book is brilliantly entertaining despite what you might think of as a dry topic. It was reissued by NYRB a few years ago, so obviously it is not all THAT overlooked.


Look, listen, and learn. Here’s the point:

Kindle Loc 32 of Ghost Stories: “…of a more formidable prosecutor than a termagant wife.”

E@L had to look up termagant when he read it this morning in the first of M.R. James’ stories; easily done on the Kindle: “Harsh-tempered or over-bearing woman.” From the moon wandering (vagant) between three (tri = ter) places: heaven, earth, and hell. E@L can’t recall reading that word in the last few decades, but it was vaguely familiar. Such an obscure and extremely rare word, yeah?

After a spine-tingling (not really) jaunt through a few of James’ quite short spooky stories, E@L thought he should check on the Johnson biography this evening! He found it terrifically witty and clever, and then…

Kindle Loc 361 of The True History: “… was left by his wife, a termagant and too clever by half; she took their little boy Tom…”

Jaw. Drop. Floor.

WWWwwwwwwwhat is going on here? Seriously. we mean, WTAF? Guess who's afraid to pick up another book now? 

Looking anxiously over his shoulder for a spooky apparition of a possibly termagant Mary Ellen Meredith née Love Peacock creeping in from one of James’ eerie tales is


*Spooky. Mystic Weird.

Free Podcast

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